Students Drawing in a Notebook

5 PBIS ideas you can use right now

Did you know that the old adage “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” can apply in the classroom, too?

As National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García noted, “The most effective tool teachers have to handle problem behavior is to prevent it from occurring in the first place … PBIS [Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports] strategies are critical to providing all young people with the best learning environment.”

As a teacher or an administrator, you’re probably on board with this concept. But many of the articles you find online only discuss how schoolwide PBIS can benefit the culture or gives broad suggestions for implementation. You don’t really find practical ways to implement PBIS in your classroom, which is what busy teachers truly need! Let’s take a look at some specific PBIS ideas you can utilize in your classroom.

5 practical PBIS ideas for your classroom

Student Drawing in school

1. Be clear in your expectations from day one

No one likes a moving target — when expectations are inconsistent, you find it difficult to do what is asked of you. Students are the same way, they like to know what exactly is expected of them.

On the first day of school, tell your students very clearly what you expect them to do (or not do), and give them time to practice those expectations. For example, I’m a history teacher, and I like all my homework to be submitted in a spiral notebook, which I give to the students on the first day of school. When I first introduce the notebook, I communicate my expectations in a couple of different ways to make sure I get my point across, and then I ask students to repeat my expectations back to me. I also ask them if they have any questions and answer those.

Then, during the first two weeks of school, I remind my students every day about their notebooks. This establishes a consistent routine, and I’ve never had any issues with students not using the notebook as directed.

2. Praise your students

Would you enjoy attending a class where all a teacher does is focus on your mistakes and reprimand you? This should go without saying, but praise your students when they meet your expectations. One of my coworkers says, “The actions you talk about, students will do.” If you give significantly more positive feedback regarding your expectations, your students will be more likely to behave as you desire.

At the same time, you should also remind students of your expectations if they do not meet them and explain how they could. Don’t focus as much on what they did wrong, rather, emphasize what they could do right.

3. Establish routines

Most students in school (and people in general) like order. In close connection to expectations, students like to be prepared — there is a comfort in knowing what routine they can expect when they enter the classroom.

I am personally very methodical in my teaching. For example, I had a clear schedule for class time and homework when I taught a combined humanities class. The morning periods were always for writing, the period right after lunch was history, and the last period was always literature.

Obviously, a routine can get boring sometimes, so you can always mix it up occasionally. Sometimes, I would play a game of Jeopardy with history facts or let the students color a picture of Achilles’s shield as we read Book 18 of Homer’s Iliad. And very rarely, I would switch a period just to give the students something different.

Similarly, history homework was always due on Wednesdays, and literature homework was always due on Fridays. By a couple weeks into the school year, students already knew without thinking what homework would be due and when.

And students really do like the routine. Teenagers may seem like they rebel a lot, but it’s often because they just need someone to establish order.

Obviously, routines take time to practice, especially for younger children, so make sure that you go over them a lot, particularly during the first two weeks of school. Doing so will set you up for a great school year!

4. Consider the design of your classroom

When I first applied to teach at a high school after graduating from college, I talked about the importance of the physical layout of the classroom in classroom management. I mentioned that I would set up my room in what I called a three-sided square or a U-shaped arrangement.

I felt then (as I still do) that this is an ideal setup for a humanities class because it allows students to see one another when someone is talking, aiding in small group discussion. At the same time, it also permits me to lecture on history topics and face all students at once. Finally, it prevents the anonymity of the back row and encourages more students to participate in class.

I know that some of my coworkers, especially in math and science, have had great success with the cluster arrangement. In any case, do what is going to work best for you and your students! If you’d like to explore some other options, check out this fun video on what your classroom layout says about you as a teacher.

5. Enchant the hearts and minds of your students

Students often don’t like coming to school. Why? Because they can be treated as passive recipients of knowledge, and thus get bored easily. History is just a list of dates; math is a set of rigid problems they have to complete. They feel like knowledge is just being dumped into their heads in unbearable, white-walled rooms, and they would much rather be outside or at home. Who can blame them?

Students feel this way (and act up!) when learning is not interactive. When you as a teacher or administrator get students involved through exploratory activities and substantive discussions, student behavior improves. They begin to take initiative in their own learning and they actually end up learning more!

Gilbert Highet says in The Art of Teaching that teachers often fail to engage their students because they come across as boring people through the manner in which they teach. Because unfortunately, some teachers just drone on and on and don’t really have a clue what their average middle schooler or high schooler is going through.

Teachers can change this by being thought-provoking, taking an honest interest in their students, and showing their students the fun side of learning. The best way to do this is to enjoy the material yourself and pass along that appreciation to your students.

For example, my current students still remember learning about women’s rights last year. Their Grade 8 teacher matched up the boys and girls as married couples and gave them a set of decisions they had to make. But they had to do it as an early-20th-century couple would have — the husband as the head of the house made the decision. It was an eye-opening experience for all the students that I’m sure they still remember and appreciate to this day.

Catch ‘em with honey, not vinegar

By setting clear expectations and a consistent routine, offering well-deserved praise, arranging an effective classroom layout, and engaging students in their learning, you can help ensure PBIS is successfully adopted in your classroom.

Looking for more PBIS resources? Check out our PBIS Handbook.

Photo credit: klimkin; coyot /

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